BY MIKE HUDSON
AC/DC will be playing at KeyBank Center (formerly First Niagara Center) on Sunday, Sept. 11, after having cancelled back in March when singer Brian Johnson was told by doctors continuing the North American tour could leave him permanently deaf. Band leader Angus Young decided to fi nish the tour and recruited Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose.
It was the most recent of many personnel changes in the band’s 43-year history.Formed by guitarist Angus Young and his brother Malcolm in 1973, they were the only remaining “original” members when AC/DC released its first album, High Voltage, only two years later. Bassist Mark Evans was then replaced by Cliff Williams for the 1977 followup, Powerage.
Tragedy struck in 1980, following the release of their classic sixth album, Highway to Hell, when lead singer Bon Scott died of acute alcohol poisoning in a rented Renault parked on a street in South London following a night of heavy drinking.
The Young brothers considered throwing in the towel, but partially because of public statements by Scott’s parents that the best memorial to their son would be for AC/DC to press on, they began looking for a replacement singer.They hired Brian Johnson, and completed the album begun with Scott, Back In Black, which remains the biggest selling AC/DC album.
Drummer Phil Rudd was fired in 1982 after his drug and alcohol problems reportedly led to a physical confrontation with Angus Young. He was replaced by Simon Wright in 1983 after the band auditioned some 700 percussionists.Wright left the group in 1988 to join Ronnie James Dio, and was replaced by Chris Slade for their 12th album, The Razor’s Edge. In January 1991, three fans were crushed to death and many others injured at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, when concertgoers rushed the stage.
Phil Rudd rejoined the group in 1994, having got his substance abuse problems under control. In August 2014, he confirmed that there would be another AC/DC tour, and stated that the band had no intention of retiring, adding, “We’ll all have to be dead before it stops.”
Less than a month later, it was announced that Malcolm Young would be leaving the band after being diagnosed with dementia.
Two months later, Rudd was arrested and charged with attempting to procure a murder, threatening to kill and possession of methamphetamine and cannabis following a police raid on his New Zealand home.
The attempting to procure a murder charge was dropped, but the others stuck, and AC/DC replaced him with former drummer Chris Slade for the current tour.
Bassist Cliff Williams, who joined the band in 1977, announced he would be retiring at the end of the current tour.
If you’ve seen AC/DC at any time between 1976 and 2016, you may have been looking at any one of three lead singers, three drummers, two bass players and two rhythm guitar players.
That said, AC/DC remains one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. They’ve toured nearly constantly for more than 40 years, and sold more than 200 million records worldwide. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, the band is the fifth bestselling group in U.S. history, with 71.5 million sales.AC/DC was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
Ironically, although songs they recorded 30 and 40 years ago can be heard on American radio stations every day, they have but a single Grammy Award.
Axl Rose, a dynamic performer and Hall of Famer himself for his work in Guns N’ Roses, said he jumped on the chance to perform with the band he grew up on.
“Everybody has an AC/DC story. Every person knows some time in their life when there was an AC/DC song that they did something with. They have a memory attached to it,” he said.
The critics have been pleased. Writing for the London Evening Standard, Rick Pearson called the combination of Rose and Angus Young, “A match made in hard rock heaven,” while – in Rolling Stone – Mark Sutherland called Rose’s Lisbon debut with the band “A triumph.”
Michael Hann of the U.K. Guardian was euphoric.“Rose, who is familiar with both malevolence and misanthropy, delivers those songs perfectly, giving them fresh menace. “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ loses its cartoonish aspect, and becomes the bar-room chatter of a psychopath; he introduces ‘Shot Down in Flame’ as ‘the story of my life’ and convinces you it’s true,” Hann wrote. “His voice, too, is brilliant: no matter how high, every note is hit, and sustained. And he keeps it up for two hours.”
But Rose has reunited with his former bandmates in Guns N’ Roses, and the departure of bassist Williams combined with the uncertainty of Brian Johnson’s return may signal the curtain coming down on the phenomenal career of AC/DC, one of the greatest rock bands of this or any other time.
If you don’t see it now, you may never get the chance again.